The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, November 18, 1999

Of all the fish in
the sea, why tuna?

SPECIALIZATION has been the way to go in the local food industry as costs rise and budgets shrink. Who's going to lease a big room and hire a lot of hands, when they can just buy a lunchwagon and put up a sign offering shrimp three or four ways? The time to think empire is after you've made your first quarter million, not when your piggy bank is on a diet.

One caveat: If you're a restaurateur who has been inspired by the successes of such specialists as Maui Tacos and Teddy's Bigger Burgers, don't think you can make a star out of any old foodstuff. Burritos, yes. Burgers, yes. Araimo, a big no for the mountain yam with the consistency of warm spit.

Which bring us to Maguro-Ya, a Japanese seafood restaurant on Waialae Avenue that celebrates the big-eye tuna, or ahi. It seems strange, but not when you stop to consider that Sam Choy is turning poke into a national phenomenon.


Food STARSTARHalf-Star

Bullet Address: 3565 Waialae Ave. (next to Cafe Laufer)
Bullet Hours: 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; dinner only Sundays
Bullet Prices: About $25 to $35 for two
Bullet Call: 732-3775

But maguro is a difficult fish to work with in that it's delicate, subtly flavored and extremely unforgiving. Connoisseurs prefer it sashimi style, raw, with a little bit of soy sauce and wasabi. Much more handling quickly becomes overkill.

At Maguro-Ya, the overkill was often preferable to the raw stuff, and worse, for specialists, there was little special about the maguro offerings. Certainly, an appetizer of Maguro Kawa ($3.50), a salad of boiled, slivered ahi skin, was a novelty, but I don't think anyone would develop much of a craving for it. The skin had the consistency of and just about as much flavor as gelatin.

Faring better was Maguro Tataki ($4.50), ahi cubed, seared on the outside and served with ponzu sauce.

The highlight of the menu is the Magurozukushi ($14 lunch/ $15.50 dinner), a teishoku, or complete meal featuring assorted vegetables, miso soup, rice and four maguro specialties. One was the tataki-style dish, another was prepared teriyaki style. My favorite comprised cubes of ahi on a skewer with slices of potato and onion, dipped in panko and deep-fried.

I didn't care for the last dish of ahi cooked in vinegar, then served chilled. As contrary as it sounds, the last thing you want is for the maguro to taste fishy and it did here.

Once I looked beyond this maguro danger zone, the menu seemed more appealing. There ware teishoku dinners of Tempura ($13.75 lunch/$14.75 dinner), Tempura and Sashimi ($14.50/$15.75), soba, udon and regular sushi.

I was beginning to tire of seafood so I glanced at the menu of daily specials. I thought I saw "chicken" in front of the word "karaage," but there is no meat on the menu. When I got the dish, it was a whole deep-fried flounder that turned out to be quite delicious.

There was no dessert, but those with a sweet tooth can simply walk over to Cafe Laufer next door.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping the next restaurateur who decides to specialize in fish chooses salmon.

See a listing of past restaurants reviewed in the
Do It Electric!

section online. Click the logo to go!

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

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